La Defense is named after a statue that was completed in 1883 but is now a business district consisting mostly of modern high-rise buildings. The statue was sculpted by Louis-Ernest Barrias in honour of the soldiers who defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. It previously stood at the centre of the rond-point de Courbevoie, a roundabout which terminated the historic axis of Paris. The statue was removed in 1964 and was placed at its current location in 1983.
At the start of the 1950s, the rond-point de Courbevoie was still surrounded by old houses and factories, which neighboured shantytowns and the odd farm. Various ideas had been presented for the redevelopment of the area, but things first started to move with the construction of a new exhibition centre in 1956-58, which would later become the Centre for New Industries and Technologies (CNIT). The architects behind the project were Robert Camelot, Jean de Mailly and Bernhard Zehrfuss, as well as engineers Jean Prouvé and Nicolas Esquillan. The building has been described as the largest unsupported concrete span enclosed space in the world. The three points of the structure are 218 metres apart. The interior was completely refurbished in 1988 and 2009.
The first new office building in the area, Tour Esso, was completed in 1964 but was demolished in 1993 and replaced with Coeur Defense in 2001 (right).
The public body EPAD was created in 1958 to develop a master plan for the area and to manage the acquisition of land and the process of relocation of previous inhabitants. The plan was adopted in 1964, and included a series of towers, which were to measure 42x24 metres in plan and reach about 100 metres in height. The first of these towers, originally named Tour Nobel, was completed in 1966 to a design by architects Jean de Mailly and Jacques Depussé. The tower is 105 metres and has since been renamed Initiale and later RTE-Nexity. It was one of the first in France to use curved glass at the corners of the building.
The residential block on the right is the oldest of its kind in La Defense and was completed in 1957, one year before CNIT, and was also by architect Jean de Mailly. It originally consisted of four slabs surmounted on an office block in an E-shape, but this has since been reduced to an L-shape with the removal of two of the slabs.
The second tower, originally named Tour Aquitaine (right), was completed in 1967 to a design by brothers Luc and Xavier Arsene-Henry, and Bernard Schoeller; but was reclad in 2014.
This makes Tour Europe, from 1969, the second oldest high-rise design in La Defense. It is the first of a series of towers by the the team of architects Delb, Chesneau and Verola. It is 99-metre reinforced concrete structure. Tour Aquitaine has had various names and is now called Tour Blanche.
The EPAD masterplan also included low-rise residential units with central courtyards, such as the one built in front of Tour Europe in 1969 by architects Camelot and Finelli.
Architects Delb, Chesneau, Verola and Lalande completed a second tower in 1970, known as Tour Atlantique. The tower is 95 metres and was the first to be built within the circular boulevard around La Defense on the Puteaux side.
It was joined by Tour Credit Lyonnais (immediate right) in 1971. This was originally a design by Dubuisson and Jausserand but the facade has been replaced and the structure was expanded during a refurbishment in 2002-07 by Valode and Pistre. The tower is now known as Tour Opus 12.
Two more towers were completed in 1971. Tour Aurore was designed by architects Claude Damery, Pierre Vetter and Gilbert Weil, but is now slated for demolition. The plan is to replace it with a 202-metre tower dubbed Tour Air2. Tour CGI, originally known as Tour EDF-GDF, was a design by by architects Gravereaux, Saubet, Arsac and Cassagne but its current facade is from 2002-03 by Kohn Pedersen Fox. The tower on the right is Tour Manhattan from 1975, by Michel Hebert and Michel Proux. Several residential units were built in front of these towers, including the two concrete buildings known collectively as Residence Vision 80. This consists of a mid-rise block reaching 47 metres in height and a lower block stretching 120 metres long. They were completed in 1973 after a competition held by EPAD was won by the architect Jean Pierre Jouve. A third concrete block was built at the foot of Tour Aurore in 1978, by Alberto Penso.
EPAD came under increasing pressure to allow taller buildings in the early 1970s. The state had made huge investments in infrastructure; including new roads, an RER express train station and an elevated pedestrian plaza; and needed to attract higher prices for the land it sold off to private investors. A new masterplan was therefore adopted in 1972, ushering in a second generation of towers. After completing Tour Atlantique in 1970; architects Delb, Chesnau, Verola and Lalande designed Tour Franklin in 1972 and Tour Winterthur in 1973.
The Y-shaped building in front of Winterthur was only completed in 1983 by Jean Balladur and occupies a space which in 2008 was considered for a new 297-metre tall building by Norman Foster.
The first towers of the second generation only reached to 120 metres but the revised masterplan actually allowed towers of up to 200 metres, presenting opportunities for taller buildings by insurance companies Gan and UAP. The UAP tower by Pierre Dufau originally stretched to 159 metres before it was rebuilt as the 225-metre Tour First in 2011. Tour Gan by Harrison & Abramovitz reached 179 metres to the roof and caused a quite stir during construction in 1972-74 due to its high visibility from central Paris.
Built during the same period as the controversial Tour Gan, though at a further distance from the city, Tour Fiat was also completed in 1974, to a design by architects Roger Sabot and Francois Jullien. Its planned twin tower was cancelled due to the oil crisis and the second tower was only completed in 1985 to a different design. This time Roger Sabot teamed up with WZMH architects. The two towers are now known as Tour Areva and Tour Total and are with their 184 and 187 metres still among the tallest in La Defense.
Before the completion of Tour Total, two new towers known collectively as Tour Pascal has ushered in the return of construction after the oil crisis. The buildings are joined by a walkway and were originally headquarters for IBM. Five years later, a third and fourth tower were completed in 1988 by the same architect: Henri La Fonta. They have been named Tour Voltaire but the four towers follow the same granite design and were conceived as single ensemble. Voltaire was originally offices for the merchant bank Banque Worms, which was nationalised in 1982, later re-privatised but finally wound up in 2004.
The idea of closing off the historic axis of Paris was first suggested in 1969 by architect Leoh Ming Pei and competitions were organised in the early and late 1970s, but it was only in 1982 that a definite project was chosen. President Mitterrand had called for a building of monumental character and the design by Otto von Spreckelsen and engineer Erik Reitzel was conceived as a modern take on the triumphal arch. Construction began in 1985 and was completed in 1989, though Spreckelsen resigned in 1986 and was suceeded by Paul Andreu.
On the site opposite CNIT, it was decided to build a shopping centre in 1972, which was finally inaugurated as Les Quatre Temps in 1981 (left). Originating with a project by Leoh Ming Pei, which also featured a tower at the centre of the historic axis, the final design was by architects Lagneau and Dimitrijevic.
The twin towers of Chassagne and Alicante were completed in 1995, to a design by architects Andrault, Parat and Ayoub. The towers dominate a whole new section of La Defense created in the 1990s, which was originally knows as quartier Valmy but is now so dominated by the bank Société Générale that its now mostly known under that name. The bank, which had previously had its offices in Tour Ariane from 1975, built a third tower in 2008 to a design by architect Christian Portzamparc.
The view from the steps of the Grande Arche is dominated by two towers, both completed in 2001. Coeur Defense (left) was designed by architect Jean-Paul Viguier and replaced Tour Esso, while Tour EDF (left) is by by Pei Cobb Freed and partners. The smaller tower to the left of EDF is of the first generation and was originally built in 1973 as a twin to Tour Atlantique but the facade was redesigned in 2004.
The towers Tour Egée and Tour Adria were built in 1999-2002 by architects Michel Andrault and Nicolas Ayoub. They are located in Faubourg de l'Arche, a part of La Defense that only began to be cleared for construction in 1988. The bridge linking the development to the rest of La Defense was completed in 1999.
The four last buildings of Faubourg de l'Arche were built in 2005-2010, including Tour T1 by architects Valode and Piste. The 185-metre skyscraper is the third tallest in La Defense and has been entirely occupied by the energy company Engie (previously GDF Suez) since 2010. On its right, Tour Esplanade, also known as Tour Sequoia, was built in 1989-90 by architects Ayoub, Andrault and Parat.
Tour UAP from 1974 was transformed into Tour First in 2007-2011 by architects Kohn, Pedersen and Fox; making it the tallest building in La Defense, at 231 metres including the antenna. Tour D2 (right) is one of the most recent towers in La Defense, completed in 2015 by architects Anthony Bechu and Tom Sheehan, at 171 metres. It replaced a previous building known as Tour Veritas, which was demolished in 2011.
Tour Carpe Diem was built in 2010-13 to a design by architect Robert Stern. It has carried the logo of the Thales Group since January 2015 and the company occupies the top seven floors of the building. At a height of 162 metres, it was the first project to be completed as part of the La Defense renewal plan adopted in 2006. Just peaking out above Tour Europe to the left of Carpe Diem can be seen Tour CBX by Kohn Pedersen Fox from 2005.
Tour Majunga was built in 2011-14 to a design by architect Jean-Paul Viguier after the group Unibail-Rodamco acquired the site in 2006.
On its right can be seen the 152-metre Tour Ariane from 1975 by architects Mailly and Zammit and on its left Tour Michelet (Total) from 1985.